Free Trade

The Republican Convention's Defense of Trump's Trade War Fell Flat

A Wisconsin business owner who spoke about losing business to China ended up inadvertently undermining the administration's argument for protectionism.

|

It's telling that one of the few speakers at this week's Republican National Convention who directly addressed President Donald Trump's trade policies ended up inadvertently undermining the White House's case for protectionism.

The speaker was Debbie Flood, owner of the Melron Corporation, an architectural foundry and machine shop in Schofield, Wisconsin. "We really make things, and we love it," Flood explained in pre-recorded remarks aired Thursday.

Flood's speech followed a predictable line of argument. In the early part of the 21st century, as China became a global manufacturing force, she watched as orders dwindled away. "When we lost nearly 50 percent of our business to China," she said, "we wonder how a small company like ours could continue to compete." She accused Joe Biden of being indirectly responsible for the damage to her business, because he'd supported efforts to normalize trade with China and to bring China into the World Trade Organization in the 1990s, even though those actions "were hurting American companies like ours."

This argument has been, essentially, the root of Trump's economic nationalist agenda for the past four years. Trump believes that increased trade with China has been a losing prospect for the United States and that the political establishment has been complicit in letting China "continue stealing our jobs, ripping us off, and robbing our country blind," as the president said in his acceptance speech later that night. He has erected new barriers to trade with China—though they've mostly been ineffective—and has promised to take even more aggressive action if re-elected.

Given all that, you'd expect Flood to tell us how Trump's intervention in the global marketplace has saved her business, or at least allowed her to regain some of what she'd lost.

Instead, her story took an unexpected turn.

"We are tenacious and we're creative," she said. "We took a risk and purchased a 3D printer. 3D printing technology allows us to do things that China can't. Now, we can take a customer's idea from sketch to sample to production in just a few weeks. This opened up new opportunities for us."

In short, Flood argued that increased competition from China forced her company to innovate, to invest in new technology, and to seek out new customers. Instead of making the case for protecting American businesses from overseas competition, she ended up essentially offering the opposite.

Flood's brief remarks highlighted the economic and intellectual contradiction at the center of Trump's "America First" economic strategy. The president and his supporters claim that our businesses are the most successful in the world and that our workers are the best to be found anywhere; then they immediately suggest that the only way American companies can survive is with expensive and expansive government protection.

In reality, outsourcing low-level manufacturing to other parts of the world has allowed American manufacturing to reach new heights. You wouldn't know it from watching the Republican convention this week—or the Democratic convention last week, for that matter—but the United States is a global manufacturing powerhouse. The narrative about declining manufacturing jobs has been outdated for years.

American manufacturing has never been more valuable than it is now. America's industrial production last year was 48 percent higher than in 1995, according to the Federal Reserve. The number of American manufacturing jobs bottomed out at 11.4 million in 2010, at the depths of the Great Recession in 2010. Jobs in that sector had grown by 12 percent since then, before sharply declining this year as the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered factories and disrupted supply chains.

Outsourcing low-end manufacturing has allowed America to focus on manufacturing more expensive goods while maintaining access to cheap consumer goods that are now mostly made elsewhere. That shift has had negative consequences for some individuals, but those human costs can be addressed without the large-scale reorientation of global supply chains envision by Trump and others on the right, such as Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.).

Meanwhile, businesses can adapt to changing economic circumstances—as Flood's did—better than governments can. Trump's trade policies have had huge unintended (but not unexpected) consequences for the very American manufacturers that Trump believes he is helping. More than two years after his trade war with China began, the most obvious consequence has been increased costs for American businesses that make them less competitive in the global market.

Unfortunately, the president doesn't seem to have learned his lesson. In his acceptance speech, Trump promised to wage his trade war even harder in his second term. If reelected, Trump said, he would seek to "provide tax credits to bring jobs out of China back to America." He also threatened to "impose tariffs on any company that leaves America to produce jobs overseas."

That, too, is telling. Tariffs are not imposed on specific companies or their products, but on whole categories of imported goods. If a company that builds widgets moves their widget factory to Denmark, for example, the president can't put tariffs on that company's widgets without also imposing tariffs on all other widgets imported into the United States from Denmark.

Trump sees tariffs as a magic wand that can accomplish anything he wants. In fact they are a dull sword—a relic that's difficult to wield effectively and that cuts both ways. Unfortunately, the president doesn't appear to be ready to put the sword down.

Advertisement

NEXT: The U.S. Prison System Has Reached 1,000 COVID-19 Deaths

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Does the Dem platform include free trade with China?

    1. Only for the US side. Continue to ignore china’s market abuses and rampant theft.

      1. Make money online from home extra cash more than $18k to $21k. Start getting paid every month Thousands Dollars online. I have received $26K in this month by just working online from home in my part time.CVF every person easily do this job by just open this link and
        follow details

        on this page to get started…………….Money90

      2. Unilateral free trade is still better and more profitable for domestic consumers than bilateral protectionism. If the Chinese want to make their consumers and businesses pay higher prices for American imports, let them; whatever US companies are involved will just sell to other markets.

        1. Just look at the all of the successful historical examples of countries that offshored their entire domestic manufacturing industry to a hostile power that not only failed to reciprocate, but stole intellectual property, government and military secrets, and blocked off commercial trade routes through international waters. Man, it’s a good thing that real international relations are the same as simplistic Ricardian models of mercantilism based on data from the 1700s.

          1. I can find you an example of one with an empire, who tried the opposite. They tried to make everything domestically and shut off trade and travel with the rest of the world. It was called the USSR. Except nobody wanted to buy Trabant cars, or Bulgarian shoes.

            China under Mao tried the same thing. They called it “the Great Leap Forward”. That did not work out so well.

            Here we were with Cameros, Levi’s, grocery stores stocked with goods from everywhere, Bon Jovi, iPods, we traded, produced and expanded. Our industries are everywhere. They established markets, supply chains, branches all over the world. American culture is ubiquitous.

            Stealing of military and other secrets is nothing new. It is old as recorded history. So that is something you deal with. Then you spy on them. I hope our spies and hackers are the best, except Israel we know they are really good too.

            1. `I’ve made $66,000 so far this year w0rking 0nline and I’m a full time student.oiu. I’m using an 0nline business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great m0ney.NFd It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it.Here…

              See=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=► Click here

      3. Making Cash more than $15k to $18k consistently just by doing basic online work. I have gotten $18376 a month ago just by working on the web. Its a simple and basic occupation to do from home and its profit are greatly improved than customary office work. Each individual can join this activity now just by pursue this link……..go to this site home media tech tab for more detail support your hear Here—— COPY HERE====Money90

    2. I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new…Mgf after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier.

      Here’s what I do………..>> Click here

    3. ●▬▬▬▬PART TIME JOBS▬▬▬▬▬●
       
      I am making $165 an hour working from home. i was greatly surprised at the same time as my neighbour advised me she changed into averaging $ninety five however I see the way it works now. I experience masses freedom now that i’m my non-public boss. that is what I do……
      ↓↓↓↓COPY THIS SITE↓↓↓↓

      HERE► Go To Link  

    4. I’ve made $84,000 so far this year working and I’ve made such great money. It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it. Heres what I’ve been doing HERE? Read More

    5. Making Cash more than $15k to $18k consistently just by doing basic online work. I have gotten $18376 a month ago just by working on the web. Its a simple and basic occupation to do from home and its profit are greatly improved than customary office work. Each individual can join this activity now just by pursue this link……..go to this site home media tech tab for more detail support your hear Here—— COPY HERE====Money90

  2. “The Republican Convention’s Defense of Trump’s Trade War Fell Flat”

    “Eric Boehm”

    Can we get someone whose opinion isn’t pre-determined?

    Thanks.

    1. Like yours?

      He could make a million sound arguments and the dullards here would protest not realizing their own preconceived views that can’t stand up to the most basic facts.

      1. Has he tried making the first one?

        1. ^THIS – It’s one thing to make a “sound argument” but entirely a different thing to be an “Eric Boehm” and make every subject about one subject and dismiss all details by just pointing to X-Cherry picked word/outcome as-if it’s suppose to be relevant.

          At which point it’s not a “argument” but actually just painting a narrative.

          1. `I’ve made $66,000 so far this year w0rking 0nline and I’m a full time student.oiu. I’m using an 0nline business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great m0ney.JHt It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it.

            See……..>> Click here

    2. It fell flat to those who follow. The woman basically made the case that foreign competition pushed her to up her game (because that’s what free-market competition does) and improve her product, to the benefits of whoever uses her product.

      But now she wants to just take it easy and not really compete, because Daddy Government will now force the rest of us to buy her crap.

      1. This^^^^^

        1. By “This”; I guess you mean abolishing the USPS subsidizing import shipping — “because that’s what free-market competition does”…

          Daddy Government IS NOW forcing us to buy China crap. Kill all the subsidizing of supposedly “free trade” then we’ll talk about actual “free trade”.

      2. Of course! If you can’t compete with state-sponsored enterprises using enslaved religious minorities as conscripted labor then you don’t deserve to be in business. Period. It’s just that simple.

        1. This^^^^^

          Why do libertarians support anti-libertarian policies of foreign countries? No price is too low?

          1. “No price is too low?”

            You’re catching on. Works for when they look at wages too.

            Everything else in their analysis is secondary.

        2. If I can ship my widget 12,000 miles and you still can’t compete, you have no business making widgets. Liberals cannot understand

          1. You don’t pay shipping… USA Taxpayers pay your shipping. Ever asked yourself how China ships to you for $0.10 where-as a stamped envelope to your next door neighbor costs $0.55????

            Enter reality…

  3. That, too, is telling. Tariffs are not imposed on specific companies or their products, but on whole categories of imported goods. If a company that builds widgets moves their widget factory to Denmark, for example, the president can’t put tariffs on that company’s widgets without also imposing tariffs on all other widgets imported into the United States from Denmark.

    No shit you fucking moron. But he can put tariffs on foreign made widgets that would make that move unprofitable. If reason wants to defend free trade, is it too much to ask they get a writer who isn’t an economic illiterate and at least understands how this works?

    1. wait until Eric finds out about what type of government china runs and how it influences their companies.

    2. Yes, it is too much to ask for.

    3. The intern will be along shortly to defend Reason.

    4. Yeah, so basically he’ll punish an entire category of goods in order to punish one company (that will probably just make it up by selling to other markets). That’s how petty and authoritarian Trump’s trade policy is.

    5. What’s your excuse for not knowing Americans are taxed too much already?

  4. boehms refusal to admit China is not a free trade partner based on their own actions continues unabated.

    1. It’s been a free trade partner for decades. Have been at a Walmart? Have ever bought anything anywhere in the last 20 years? China’s economic growth has brought plenty of consumer goods within the abundant reach of the First-World’s middle and lower-middle classes.

      1. That’s not what “trade partner” means you absolute fucking retard.

        1. Yes, it is! Businesses trade with partner businesses from other nations. That’s what produces the greatest benefit. Countries shouldn’t be “trade partners”; business and consumers should.

          1. The U.S. Constitution seems to disagree with that assertion. While I originally agreed with your assertion; I realized that the policies of foreign countries have far too much IMPACT on our own to be free “trade partners” because it leaves the foreign country in anarchy land on the deal because the U.S. cannot implement justice in foreign countries without a treaty.

  5. Let me ask you something. Who do think will get us heading back toward actually managing ALL things government in a measurable context ? Hmmm ? Answer NOBODY but Trump ! Be as your namesake suggests please REASONable.

  6. This message brought to you by Emperor Pooh Bear. I’m a free trader and still have a bad feeling about dealing with China without some push back on our part. Just their aggression in the South China sea, trying to eliminate freedom of the seas, gives me pause.

    1. But that’s obviously not why Trump’s being protectionist! And this speaker made it extra clear: He wants to protect the domestic business losers (like her) from foreign competition. Those who can’t make the cut. In other words, Trump’s main goal (as is that of most trade restrictionists’) is to protect and subsidize US mediocrity on the back of the broader American business and consummariat.

      Why subsidize them? Because deyr ‘Murican! And we’re ‘Murican too! Dududuh!

      1. Exactly! If you’re just too stupid and mediocre to make a successful, internationally competitive business with $40k per worker in mandatory regulatory and tax costs while your state-sponsored competitors operate using the forced labor of religious minorities and full subsidization of the central bank, you don’t deserve to be in business. It’s just that simple.

        1. Yes! Take advantage of their cheaper crap, and with the wealth surprlus Americans save from it, they’ll invest in new and other lines of business. That’s how overall wealth grows.

          1. End the subsidies for China importers first!

  7. There is literally no defense of Drumpf’s disastrous economic record.

    In Koch / Reason economic analysis there is one metric that, above all others, determines the strength of the economy. It is simply this: our benefactor Charles Koch’s net worth. And Mr. Koch’s hard-earned fortune has declined by more than $5 billion this year.

    #VoteBidenToHelpCharlesKoch

    1. Most people see their wealth decline in a shrinking economy. You’re basically saying Trump’s economic conditions suck.

      And you’re the only one obsessed with Charles Koch around here. Did he touch you when you were a kid or something?

      1. It’s pretty funny that you’re too fucking stupid to identify a parody account. Not surprising. But funny.

        1. I know he’s a stupid parody. I’m responding to his (so clever) point! To his “irony”.

  8. Independent labor unions are illegal in China, so free trade with China means US labor unions compete with that.

    I’m not surprised we’ve lost manufacturing to China, but that’s not coming back.

    More casualties of centralized government and regulations.

    1. The rational self-interested (“America First”) thing would be to take advantage of their cheaper labor costs in order to obtain the goods and services we want, while we invest our surplus in new industries. But right now, morons and ‘Murica populists are taking the forefront on trade policy, so wealth-maximizing rational thinking is going to have to take a backseat.

      1. obtain the goods and services we want, while we invest our surplus in new industries.

        Yes! We need central planners to invest our consumer savings into futuristic industries like solar and wind energy. That will more than offset the increase in welfare spending required to keep millions of people alive who have had their livelihood permanently destroyed because they are simply too lazy, weak, and stupid to compete with enslaved religious minorities working without pay. It’s really just that simple.

        1. Overreaching environmentalists and excessive domestic spending are separate issues, which I’m happy to oppose.

  9. So reason wants more free trade with a country that locks up its minorities and makes them slave labor.

    Sick.

    1. Give me a fucking break! Like conservatives and nationalists ever cares about human rights record of other countries. If it was really about that, Trump wouldn’t be going full turbo-charge on Canada as well.

      1. Goal posts go ZOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!

        1. He is right John. Trump has not even brought up human rights issues. It was never about that.

          In any case we have tariffs against trade with China, Canada, EU, and others. None of them have anything to do with human rights. Canada??

          In any case this trade war with China has not budged the human rights issue one millimeter. If anything they are more belligerent. Trade issues are worse off and nobody wins anything.

          You are not going to get some sort of human rights progress with tariffs. What a preposterous suggestion. So the goalposts have been moved. Trump trade war proponents can concede that the losses and gains, if there are any gains, to the US economy and jobs is at best a wash. Negotiations have broken down to nothing.

          Now it is about human rights. Taking jobs away is not the way to achieve human rights. Libertarians see trade, free movement of goods, services and people as basic human rights. Government control of those interactions is pure authoritarian central planning.

    2. Change “more free trade” to “subsidized trade” then it’ll be correct.

  10. This trade war is one of the most disgusting aspects of the Trump presidency (policy-wise). Protectionism is nothing more but a celebration of national mediocrity, and the coercion of the citizenry at large to subsidize it.

    Every time I start to lean on Trump when he cuts some red tape on some industry or champions school choice, I get reminded of things like and I’m put off again. I’ll probably go fishing on November 3.

    1. Absolutely! If American companies can’t pull themselves up by the bootstraps and out-compete state-sponsored enterprises being capitalized directly by the central bank and using slave labor then they don’t deserve to be in business. It’s really just that simple.

    2. The trouble is that everybody wants to see a choice as completely good or completely bad. I see that Trump is bad on international trade, although maybe not worse than the Democrats. But Trump scores so well in other columns that the (heh) trade-off is favorable. I’m not trying to justify my favor on the basis of all aspects, in the sense of each, only on the basis of the overall score. So I don’t ignore the bad or try to pretend it’s good somehow, I just look at it as the price of all that goodness.

  11. Great article, Mike. I appreciate your work, I am now making over $15k every month just by doing an easy j0b 0nline!OPt I KNOW YOU NOW MAKIG MOR DOLLARS online from $28 k I,TS EASY ONLINE WORKING JOBS…

    go to this SITE for more INFO just …Click here.

  12. I’ve made $84,000 so far this year working and I’ve made such great money. It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it. Heres what I’ve been doing HERE? Read More

  13. ●▬▬▬▬PART TIME JOBS▬▬▬▬▬●My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do.══════►►► USA JOBES
    .

  14. There is a candidate who is running on the platform of eliminating trade barriers and lowering taxes and deficit spending.

    Her name is Jo Jorgensen. She is the libertarian candidate for president.

  15. Free-Trade is a great plan…

    1. End ALL subsidies on imported goods.
    2. End ALL USA employment laws
    3. End ALL USA (non-labored) benefit programs
    4. Return to the GOLD standard (no fiat manipulation)
    5. End ALL USA purchasing taxes

    I mean for craps sake – If anyone wants to actually support “free trade” they’d be VERY VERY wise to start right here at HOME (USA) instead of try to make it happen for China but not for our own!

Please to post comments